It’s a sunny morning in Johannesburg and I’m reflecting on my toilet. It is no ordinary toilet but one designed by Love Jozi as part of the 12 Decades hotel in Maboneng. Think regenerated Hackney if you’ve never been to Jo’burg. In the toilet are a whole bunch of laws created in South Africa between 1946 and 1956 that are frankly best down the toilet where they belong.
Yesterday I was feeling frustrated about a few, ultimately minor, things which have been taking up a lot of my time recently. It was one of those days when I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and now waking up on this sunny morning it occurs to me how much the task of anyone who wants to change something be it a small practical detail in our own daily lives or the massive task of the transformation of a nation like South Africa has to practice, simultaneously, the belief in the possibility of a different reality and commitment to take actions that in and of themselves may or may not work.
Just as it took those who fought those laws in my toilet more than a generation to see change so sometimes we have to move forward with a faint hope that things might be different. As they surely did for many years in which the fight for an end to apartheid meant that many of South Africa’s most committed change makers ended up in jail, exile or dead so we have to continue, despite the faintness of our hope, to take actions, look after our sense of optimism and be kind to ourselves.
Just as so many questions about how to build a fairer South Africa remain despite the end of the laws of the decade which my room commemorates so despite many decades of work on women’s rights – and many achievements, the task that faces those of us who think that fundamental change in women’s lives is still worth fighting for can sometimes seem immense.
What my toilet is reminding me this morning is that it’s through our daily practice and commitment to take small actions, look after ourselves and model the change that we want to see in the world to others that the dreams of change that might sometimes seem so illusive are not only possible but will, like the end to state-enforced apartheid, eventually come to pass.
Whenever it occurs to us that change seems impossible we fundamental mis-re-member history.
In fact the world is changing constantly.
But sometimes it takes our minds a while to catch up.
Still we must act as if the change we want to see is not only possible, but also inevitable.
So that we can take the next action how ever insignificant it may seem.
We have to keep dreaming a new world.
As Ben Okri puts it in his epic poem Mental Fight, ‘Our future is greater than our past’